The Peter Principle is well known in business circles, and you can see examples of it in any organization. The idea is that people are promoted to their position of incompetence. A company will take a brilliant engineer, the best in his field, and promote him to management. Unfortunately, the qualities that made him a great engineer don’t serve him well as a manager, and he performs poorly in that role. The company may provide him with training in management skills to try to address his weaknesses in that position, but ultimately, it’s just not a good fit, and he eventually fails and leaves the company.
Fixing weaknesses vs. building on strengths
The example above illustrates a common aspect of business management – the attempt to fix people’s weaknesses. The goal of much of the training and coaching that goes on in a company is to develop people’s skills in the areas where they are naturally weak, in order to fill the gaps in their performance. As with the engineer turned manager, this can even lead to trying to remake a person into something they’re not suited for.
A different approach is to focus on a person’s strengths, not their weaknesses. When you try to address a weakness, you are often working against a person’s natural tendencies. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. On the other hand if you take that same person’s innate strengths and greatest talents, developing them means working in harmony with that person’s character and authentic self. They are more likely to excel in their job, they will have greater self-esteem, and they will be happier with their work, too.
A Gallup survey asked more than a thousand workers about whether their job involves doing what they do best. Those people who felt strongly that they never used their best strengths also reported being disengaged with their jobs. People who did use their strengths in their work were far more likely to feel engaged with their jobs. Other research studies have shown that employee engagement is directly tied to productivity and financial performance. This would indicate that putting employees in a position to use their greatest strengths could positively affect a company’s bottom line.
Reasons companies don’t build on people’s strengths
- Lack of accurate assessment
Often managers don’t even know a person’s real strengths. Time constraints, subjective views, or lack of understanding of technical skills, may mean that managers do not accurately understand a person’s real talents.
- Employees are good at something else
It’s quite common for an employee to perform adequately or even well at a job, even though it’s not where their true strengths lie. Managers may see they’re doing a good job, and never realize that they could be doing even better at something else.
- People don’t know their own strengths
This is surprisingly common. People don’t spend much time thinking about their own strengths. They’re more conditioned to focus on weaknesses (their own and other people’s), rather than strengths. If an employee doesn’t know their own strengths, it is even harder for managers to uncover them.
Moving to a culture of strength building
It may not be fast or easy, but changing your organizational culture to start identifying and building on people’s unique strengths and talents can lead to increased business performance. Make this part of your on-going performance management process, and look for ways to incorporate employee’s talents in their jobs. Great leadership is paramount for people to build amazing teams. Leaders who don’t fear to course correct establish performance standards and make difficult decisions that are being met (and they’re constantly improving, too). Whether we’re talking about the workplace or about local communities, team building necessitates an enthusiastic understanding of people and their strengths.
As far as employee growth is concerned, it is important to build strength in order to improve value and diminish weaknesses. Companies should focus more on employee engagement and retention. Retaining workers is not something every organization can achieve, especially since many don’t care about their employees. If you want your business to succeed, building strengths and fixing weaknesses is a technique you have to implement.